Moab, Utah, is a sacred place for Jeep geeks--those who go beyond the "It's a Jeep thing, you wouldn't understand" spare-tire covers and upside-down "If you can read this, please turn me over" window stickers. The geeks who, were they into, say, Porsche 911s, would track them. The ones who buy elaborate suspension kits for their Wranglers and who get along with the Kona, Jamis, and Gary Fisher fans. Jeep geeks crawl up and down narrow paths on Moab's treacherous, slippery rock at speeds of up to 12 mph, coexisting in harmony with the mountain-bike geeks who rarely get out of the lowest of their 27 gears.
Proving the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee hasn't lost its Moab mojo was critical to Jeep's parent company. This is the first new Chrysler product after a long, bankruptcy-punctuated drought. It's the first new product under Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne's management, and it's one of the last to benefit from Mercedes-Benz technology. Any of those factors could have turned the Jeep Grand Cherokee into another suburban soft-roader.
With an independent rear suspension replacing a live rear axle, the Grand Cherokee now rides on the Mercedes M-Class platform. The three-row Jeep Commander will be scrapped after the 2010 model year, soon to be replaced in Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge/Ram showrooms by a three-row, unibody Dodge Durango also on the M-Class platform.
True-blue Jeep geeks in their raised Wranglers gave us their verdict in the form of verbal thumbs-ups as we carefully rock-crawled a Bright Silver Metallic, Hemi-powered Grand Cherokee Overland with Uconnect Internet access and panoramic sunroof. It's a real Jeep. (Chrysler management is in too much upheaval to have "planted" those Wrangler drivers.)
Carryover four-wheel-drive systems include the automatic Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II with a two-speed transfer case, and Quadra-Drive II with the transfer case and rear electronic limited-slip differential. The Quadra-Lift air suspension raises and lowers the SUV via the new Select-Terrain system (see sidebar), included with both IIs.